WARSAW (Reuters) - Hundreds of riot police, some of them mounted, fought pitched battles in central Warsaw on Tuesday with traders resisting eviction from a bazaar seen as a symbol of the raw capitalism that flourished in the early 1990s.
Police closed down the city centre’s main thoroughfare temporarily as they used water cannons against the protesters, who fought back with stones, bricks and sticks.
Earlier, traders had used fire extinguishers and tear gas against security guards trying to storm the red and white KDT building, which has housed clothes and shoe stalls since the free-wheeling days following the fall of communism in 1989.
The authorities want to dismantle the building and erect a museum of modern art in its place. Under a court order, the trademen were meant to have left the premises two days ago.
Warsaw’s mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, said she expected those who violently resisted eviction to be punished.
“We will be pressing charges. The law must be obeyed,” she told Polish television.
“The time for talks is over. There were two and a half years for that. Now I have lost my trust (in them) and without trust there can be no more talks.”
Police said they had detained 12 people in the violence, in which at least 18 policemen and security guards and a large number of protesters suffered injuries.
“When the town hall official tried to enter the building to convince traders to leave, he encountered tough resistance from the traders who had locked themselves inside,” said Tomasz Andryszczyk, a spokesman for the municipality.
Polish television channels broadcast the clashes live.
“Help us save our jobs! This is our whole life,” said one protester.
Tradesmen waved red and white Polish flags and sang the national anthem.
The city authorities have offered an alternative venue to the traders on the outskirts of Warsaw. But they prefer the current location because it is very central, next to Warsaw’s trademark Stalin-era Palace of Culture.